Water Fee Fight
About a year ago a monthly fee disappeared from water bills on the Monterey Peninsula. Now an effort to try and collect that money again is under fire.
When it comes to bringing water to Monterey Peninsula taps, the Water Management District does just about everything except actually deliver the water to the tap. That’s California American Water’s job. The District issues water permits, rescues fish from the lower Carmel River when it runs dry from over pumping, and has a key role in developing a new water supply to stop that over pumping. “So you look at what’s out there now, what the proposal for solving the water crisis is, it’s three components: Aquifer Storage and Recovery, Groundwater Replenishment and Desal,” said Dave Stoldt, General Manager of the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District. The District is a partner in the Groundwater Replenishment component, and owns the Aquifer Storage and Recovery system which is already in use. It takes the Winter overflows off the Carmel River and stores it for later. “So we are putting that water into the Cal-Am system, Cal-Am is delivering it, but the service is still there, the water supply reaches the home,” said Stoldt.
For its service, the District used to collect a monthly user fee on Cal-Am water bills. Annually about $3.7-million. But after nearly three decades of collecting the fee, a judge said the District couldn’t put it on Cal-Am’s bill. It came off the bill last May. This is where the new fee enters the picture. In an effort to recoup that loss, the District plans to add a fee to property tax bills. The fee ranges from just over $39 a year for a small house to more than $200 for some businesses. The money will go toward the new water supply.
The Monterey County Association of Realtors has launched an all-out campaign against the fee. MCAR’s Government and Community Affairs Director Kevin Stone says while the Association supports getting a new water supply, it doesn’t support how the District is trying to get the funding. “The fundamental issue is the fact that the Water Management District is trying to secure, a new long term financing stream on the backs of property owners via the tax bill without giving the property owner a chance to actually vote on it,” said Stone.
Following a method laid out by Proposition 218, the District mailed a notice to Monterey Peninsula Property owners about the fee, and gave them 45 days to protest. More than 50% property owners must submit a written protest to stop the fee. Imposing a fee through 218 can be murky. The prop restricts property related fees, with some exceptions like water delivery. But since Cal-Am is actually the entity delivering water to the tap, Stone considers this a tax and wants a public vote. “It comes down to the real issue being that the Water Management District is not a water purveyor. They do not provide water service to California American Water Company ratepayers, they just don’t,” said Stone. In its campaign against the fee, MCAR has distributed yard signs and launched the web site StopWaterTax.com. It’s trying to get enough written protests to stop the fee. Stone, who owns property in Carmel Valley, says he’ll hand delivery his protest to the June 12th public hearing. That’s when Dave Stoldt hopes to see it pass. Since the district delivers water to Cal-Am, he says it has a right to add the fee to property tax bills. “In this particular process it doesn’t require a vote. Voting is expensive. We would have to foot the bill for that. And to get a ballot measure put together would be almost a year from now, and so we’d lose a complete year of time with an uncertain outcome. That’s not in the best interest of the people of the Peninsula who need water,” said Stoldt. If the fee does pass, Kevin Stone says the Monterey County Association of Realtors is seriously considering legal action.